By Jennifer Mendelsohn Millman
Program Director for the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation of Baltimore
“Because the stories we tell determine what we think about what happens, which determines what happens next.”
– Katie Orenstein, founder and CEO of the Op-Ed Project
Who is telling the stories in our community? If we are like the rest of the country, then the stories are being told by only a small sliver of the population. Did you know that if you combine the voices on television, in Hollywood, in Wikipedia, in Congress, on corporate boards and on the opinion pages only 16.5 percent of them are female. To make matters worse, one of the reasons that our voices are underrepresented is that we are not raising them. When the Washington Post tracked submissions to their OpEd pages for five months in 2008, they found that only 10 percent of the submissions were from women.
The Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation of Baltimore (JWGF), a program of the Associated, was confronted by the above statistics when we hosted a seminar by the OpEd Project. The OpEd Project was launched in 2008 with a mission to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world. Their goal is to increase the number of women thought leaders contributing to key forums. In other words, women who are telling the story. Because when we start telling the story (an evidence-based, value-driven story, of course) we gain credibility. With credibility comes exposure and exposure leads to influence.
JWGF is just one of the ways Associated Women can gather to hear stories from our community. We are a women’s giving circle, a form of participatory philanthropy where individual members donate their money to a pooled fund, decide together where to give the money and, in doing so, seek to increase their awareness of and engagement in the issues facing their community.
Every year we hear stories of need in Jewish and secular Baltimore, in Israel and beyond. Through our grant cycle last year, we learned that a critical challenge faced by poor women with life-threatening conditions like breast cancer is access to nutritious, body-healing food. Moveable Feast, a local non-profit, tackles that problem by delivering free, healthy meals to breast cancer patients so that they can focus on strengthening their bodies and not on where there next meal will come from.
We also learned about a particularly vulnerable segment of the population in Israel, girls removed from their homes by court order because of neglect or trauma who were then dually traumatized by their proximity to rocket fire during Operation Pillar of Defense. NATAL, an Israeli non-profit that is world-renowned for supporting the treatment of Israelis who have experienced trauma related to terrorism, war and military service, was on the ground and ready to help. They empowered these girls with practical tools for dealing with their stressful situation.
JWGF was delighted to be able to grant over $100,000 last year to Moveable Feast, NATAL and seven other organizations working to address the above issues and others facing women and girls. Just as importantly, we listened to their stories, we learned from them and we were inspired to take action.
We were challenged by the OpEd Project to make a difference in our community by sharing the stories that we hear. And we in turn challenge you. In this season of giving, help our community and let your voices be heard. Share with others the stories that have inspired you this year.
Make an impact in our community with your voice. If you would like more information about the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation of Baltimore, please contact Jennifer Mendelsohn Millman at firstname.lastname@example.org.